Keep Families Together rally held Saturday in downtown Franklin


Davin Eldridge – Staff

Writer As sure as temperatures tend to get hot in July, tempers have a tendency to flare in American politics.  Macon County was no exception to this rule, as several hundred people from across the region gathered in downtown Franklin this weekend, joining legions of other Americans across the nation. It was all part of the latest protest of the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant families.  Collectively, more than 600 so-called Keep Families Together rallies were held in every corner of the country–from New York to Los Angeles, Frost Belt to the Bible Belt–in a massive show of force. Stories were told throughout all 50 states, making their way into the mountains of Western North Carolina. In towns like Sylva, Asheville and Franklin, the rallies drew the crowds. Rally speaker Dan Kowal, who teaches English as a Second Language to Macon County elementary students, gave accounts of some local families before decrying the immigration policy as short-sighted. “The stakes are just too high,” he said. “The families that are working hard in Highlands, in Franklin, around the county, in restaurants, picking our vegetables, working the hotels, doing ground maintenance – can tell you all of those country clubs up in Highlands rely on those folks… They’re here. Many families with their children that we teach and we love them, and they’re awesome… They’ve come for a better life.”  Kowal drew parallels between the lives and experiences of today’s undocumented immigrants with those of his own forebears, by highlighting their goals, intentions, reasons, values and impacts as American immigrants.  Kowal began by first making an appeal to the plight of their home countries, which he said drives so many of them to illegally cross America’s border every day. He said the problem of illegal immigration hasn’t arisen in the U.S. for simple reasons. The hardships they face today are far different from the challenges that conventional immigrants of the past have endured in places like Italy, Ireland or Poland in the previous century. “The folks we’re talking about specifically today are asylum seekers,” said Kowal. “These are people who left mostly Central America. Who left Guatemala or El Salvador or Honduras–which have terrible, terrible situations. Human rights being violated, almost systematically, and gang violence, which is why so many young people are leaving. Otherwise they would be forced, upon threat of death, to join these violent gangs… They’re coming here for a fresh start.” “This is un-American,” he said. “This cannot stand, and the worst part is the separating of the children. That is immoral. This is traumatizing these children – these innocent children– for their parent’s crime – it’s not even a crime for coming to America for a better life to survive.” Despite the seemingly popular event this weekend, not all Americans came to repudiate the policy. Macon County is no exception to this rule, either. “They come here illegally, they don’t get to have it how they want it when it’s time to go,” said Brandon Smith, 31, of Riverbend. “No, if they break our laws, guess what? They pay the price. Welcome to America. We don’t let murderers or thieves or drug pushers keep custody of their kids when they get caught. They want to be treated equally like Americans? Well, here you go.“ Fellow conservative Austin Lewis, 27, of Dillard, Ga., agreed. “Nobody wants to separate a family,” he said. “We don’t want to split up families. Of course we don’t. But we can’t keep footing the bill for immigrants who cut in line ahead of immigrants who bought their ticket. That isn’t right.” Smith and Lewis both attended the Saturday rally “just to see.” They said they left unimpressed and their minds not changed. Other conservatives have however changed their tune – conservatives like Brandon Hudson and his fiancee Debra. “We both voted for Trump and supported him as our president,” said Brandon.”We still do support him. When Sessions first announced they were going to separate them, we told everyone we agreed… We were sure we did, but we knew deep down that it wasn’t right. It’s not right to split families up like this. How does this make us look to the world?” Among the event’s speakers was local pastor Janet Greene, who like many others in her church that day, took issue with the recent actions of a prominent fellow Methodist, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In keeping with 600 other evangelicals throughout the nation, Greene zeroed-in on his particular use of scripture to rational “‘Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority, unless it comes from God and the authorities that are there have been put into place by God…’ [Romans 13:1] It’s a verse that has been trotted out many times in history,” she said, citing its use by British loyalists to undermine American patriots during the Revolution, as well as its invocation by Southern aristocracy to legitimize the slave trade. “He is a United Methodist person, but I don’t think he’s been to a good Bible class in a long time. Because if he had he would know that you can’t pull one sentence out from a scripture – you can prove anything by pulling one scripture out.”